Weddington QB shows off versatility in leading team to NCHSAA 4A football state final

Tyler Budge is 6-foot-3 with a strong arm and what college coaches describe as good passing instincts.

In other words, he looks like the perfect pocket-passing quarterback — until he takes off with the football. That’s when opponents realize there is more to Tyler Budge than “passing quarterback.”

“I hear that sometimes,” said Budge, starting quarterback for the Weddington High team that will face Hoggard at 7 p.m. Saturday night at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium for the 4A state championship.

“If I see the need to run, I’ll do it,” he said. “And I enjoy it.”

The defensive game plan by Weddington’s opponents in the playoffs has been to:

Take away the Warriors’ passing game

Try to contain running backs Brady Ritter and Nick Diamond.

Weddington’s counter to all that? If nothing else is there, let the quarterback run. Budge had three carries of 12 or more yards two weeks ago against previously unbeaten Grimsley, and four gains of 7-12 yards last week against Independence.

And when opponents try to contain Budge in the pocket, he’ll throw the ball. He has completed 225 of 340 passes for 2,957 yards and 28 touchdowns this season.

A long stride

“I’ve always had a long stride,” said Budge, who committed to Georgia Southern in June after getting offers from at least 15 schools, ranging from FBS to the Ivy League. “Back when I was in seventh and eighth grade, I was a bit clumsy. But at the end of my sophomore year, I grew. I filled out, and the stride has gotten more even.”

Budge has carried 92 times for 594 yards this season, and 15 of those carries ended in touchdowns.

He comes by all of this naturally. His dad, Steve, was a four-year starter at quarterback in the late 1990s at Lehigh and led the Mountain Hawks to a pair of Patriot League championships and two FCS playoff berths.

Providence Day’s David Sanders (70) tackles Weddington’s Tyler Budge (12) during a game at Providence Day in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.
Providence Day’s David Sanders (70) tackles Weddington’s Tyler Budge (12) during a game at Providence Day in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.

“I was always a quarterback,” Tyler Budge said. “Quarterback is all I ever remember.”

Budge came into his own last season as a junior, passing for more than 3,200 yards. His passing yardage dropped off a bit this year, because Weddington’s rushing yardage has increased.

Budge said the Warriors will take what opponents give them.

“Earlier in the season, we threw the ball a lot,” he said. “We weren’t nearly as run-heavy as the last few weeks.”

His favorite target has been UNC commit Keenan Jackson, who has 92 receptions for 1,568 yards and 17 touchdowns.

A running response

Grimsley clearly tailored its defense to take away the passing threat, and Weddington responded.

“We’ve run more in recent weeks, in part as a reaction to what opponents are giving us,” Budge said. “But some of it is because it’s late in the season, and playing fields are getting eaten up.”

In the Warriors’ last two games, opposing kickers from Grimsley and Independence each slipped and fell on extra-point or field-goal attempts.

Weddington’s sure-footed backs – Budge, Diamond and Ritter — largely have escaped that problem.

“The beauty of our offense is that we can move the ball in different ways,” Budge said. “We do whatever we need to.”

One area of improvement Budge wants to see from the offense Saturday night is in the red zone. Weddington’s first two drives deep into Independence territory last week ended in field goals.

“That’s inexcusable,” he said. “In a big game, that absolutely cannot happen. We’ll work hard to make sure that isn’t the case in the next game.”

Budge pointed to his team’s reaction to its final regular-season game as proof that the Warriors can learn and grow.

“That loss bothered us,” he said, referring to an Oct. 28 setback to neighborhood rival Marvin Ridge. “We talked about it afterward, and I think we’re actually better off for it.”

“We have unfinished business,” Budge added, referring to Saturday night’s contest. “We’ve been building toward this all season.”